Smoking Again

At the risk of re-opening an old debate, I responded by email to John Ray’s latest post on the New York City smoking bans. John Writes:

A lot of libertarians seem to get their knickers in a knot over the ban on most smoking in public by New York Mayor Bloomberg. They seem to think that the policy violates some ?right? to smoke. But if person X has a ?right? to smoke, then person Y has a ?right? to breathe clean air. But the two ?rights? are obviously in conflict. The only way to give the maximum freedom to both parties is then to segregate them — which is what Bloomberg is doing — perfectly libertarian in my view.

Smokers see it all as unfair only because (being addicts) they are so used to trampling over the liberties of non-smokers who would like to breathe unpolluted air.

The problem I see with this explanation is that smokers and non-smokers were already segragated – there has never been, and never will be, any law against a property owner designating a business as smoke-free. Most bar owners chose not to do it, as the majority of their customers did not want a smoke-free bar environment. At least – smoke free status was well down the list of priorities for non-smokers, but smoking allowed is very high on the list for smokers.

If smoke-free was your #1 priority, then you would presumably go to a smoke-free bar rather than one that offers a large selection of randy females, correct? As I’m sure you know, that isn’t the path most punters choose.

With Bloomberg’s new laws, the right to open a business that allows smoking is taken away. This is hardly libertarian. The only explanation is that Bloomberg’s laws have been put in place to address a market failure – that is, the failure of the market to provide for a perceived group of consumers. (those who wish to attend smoke-free bars).

Im sure you aware that correcting the perceived failure of the free market is not a central tenet of libertarianism. However, even assuming that it is Bloomberg’s goal, surely then a more acceptable solution would be to offer an incentive to bar owners to create smoke-free bars, rather than hang the threat of state censure over the heads of those who choose to cater to their market.

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